We all have different routines to help us get in the zone – what’s yours?
One classic technique found in lots of success manuals is to “pre-view” the outcomes you want by visualizing yourself achieving the desired goal.
Envisioning ourselves attaining desired outcomes is a helpful confidence-raising practice – but it only works up to a point.
We reach that point, explains Gabriele Oettingen, an NYU psychologist who’s been studying motivation science for twenty years, when we fail to also consider likely obstacles. The effort and energy that goes into picturing successful future outcomes isn’t available for the necessary actions we need to achieve the goal. This leads to reduced goal commitment and attainment.
Her research shows people realized notably better results with a confidence-building procedure that combined thinking positively about how it would be when they achieved their goal, while thinking realistically about what it will take to get there.
Her motivating practice is called WOOP (Wish, Outcome, Obstacle, and Plan) and it’s proven successful in in a broad range of situations like smoking reduction, social engagement, learning a language, and other challenges.
How it Works
Wish – Reflect on how you’ll feel after you achieve the goal. See yourself enjoying the result of your efforts and really feel that sense of accomplishment and satisfaction. Let that feeling permeate your whole body.
Outcome – Visualize the specific outcome that will result in that feeling of accomplishment. What will that look like? Picture the results at the end of the whole process and bring to mind all the details in that successful result.
Obstacles – Now consider the possible or likely obstacles you’ll encounter on the way to arriving at the goal. Focus on the personal habits like feeling anxious, doubtful, or becoming distracted, or discouraged. You can’t control conditions like how the other person may respond at various points, but you can control how you react to those conditions. That’s what you should bring to mind now.
It’s important, she points out, to have a sense of humor and be honest and open without beating up on ourselves about the kinds of things that typically hold us back. The more clearly we recognize our unhelpful habits like feelings of intimidation, the better we can plan our antidotes.
Plan – Lastly, prepare to deal with anticipated obstacles by using a simple “If / Then” formula. By deciding on those counter actions in advance you create a strong likelihood they won’t distract you from your goal. For example, if you might feel discouraged when someone hangs up on your cold call your plan might be to simply ignore that, remind yourself it’s not about you personally, or to remember a positive response you’ve gotten instead.
Your response tactics can be quite simple: “I’ll ignore it,” “I’ll be cheerful anyway,” or “That just won’t matter.”
The WOOP process makes use of several important psychological principles. First, we’re engaging our unconscious mind, our invisible self, to overcome goal-blocking habits.
We’re forming unconscious links between anticipated challenges and effective responses.
In addition to activating goal-striving momentum we’re protecting that energy from being siphoned off by disruptive thoughts and feelings.
By creating “mental representations” of our personal obstacles in advance (the “if” part of the plan) they become highly activated and more accessible to awareness when they actually arise. In other words, we’re familiarizing ourselves with those obstacles, so we’re more aware of them and can act spontaneously when they arise.
By forging strong associations between the obstacles and our solutions we create positive problem-avoiding habits that are automatic, immediate, efficient, and not necessarily guided by conscious intent. And the benefits have been proven in diverse contexts.
When Dr. Oettingen studied two groups exposed to spiders, the test group of arachnophobes was able to control their fear as well as the non-phobic group by planning advance strategies to stay calm.
In other studies, goals like engaging in a regular exercise program were more readily acted upon in spite of some initial reluctance to execute the desired behavior.
Overall, putting our mind to work visualizing goals, anticipating obstacles and knowing we have specific tactics to offset expected hitches cultivates a solid sense of personal effectiveness. Just what’s needed to meet challenges with confidence and clout.